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Hope for Ijtihad

Reader comment on item: Churches in Saudi Arabia?
in response to reader comment: I think you are

Submitted by Archimedes2 (Canada), Apr 12, 2008 at 22:53

Yes, I'm aware of the possibility for ijtihad, Houssam, and like you I hope for reform. Not all muslims regard the "gates of ijtihad" to have been closed a millennium ago. I am with you 100% on this, and do wish muslims of good will all the best luck in pursuing genuine reform.

I know, for example, that a group of scholars in Lebanon are pursuing a revision of Sharia Law from first principles, perhaps even enough to qualify as a fifth school of Sunni jurisprudence. But from what I've read of their goals, they will not address some of the more egregious aspects of traditional law as it pertains to treatment of the kuffar, apostacy and so on.

Perhaps if their reforms succeed some momentum will be gained toward further, more meaningful, changes. You are aware of the history of Christianity, and how the west reformed out of the dark ages to the liberal society it is today. This does suggest the possibility for something similar in Islam, and I hope with you for a change that enables Islam to similarly shed much of the historical violence and intolerance. But surely you also know that the situation is not an exact parallel.

Nothing in Christianity is analogous to Sharia Law. In orthodox Judaism there is the Mosaic Law, but the notion of "religious law" is quite different in Christianity, which makes it easy to separate the authority of the state and religious authority, which facilitates separation of church and state. Indeed, a church-dominated state is difficult to justify in most readings of the New Testament, while any plain-language reading of Qur'an, Hadith and Sunnah assumes theocracy as a matter of course. So the religious state is natural in the Islamic framework and unnatural in the Christian (this is not to say that the unnatural hasn't occurred in both systems -- obviously it has many times!), which is somewhat problematic for reform because of the whole mixture of state power and religious authority...the question is far beyond anything we can deal with in website comments.

If you're interested in the issue I'll recommend Charles Colson's classic, "Kingdoms in Conflict", which is surprisingly current even 20 years after it was written and, although pitched mainly at a Christian audience, the book lays out the issues well enough for anyone with an interest in the issue. I'd be very interested in a muslim's perspective on Colson's take on state power versus religious authority. A connected but probably adeeper difficulty is the question of what "reformation" should mean in Islam, and whether one can draw on a parallel with Christianity. It is trite to observe that the Protestant Reformation led to the enlightenment and return to the essentials of the Christian faith (both for Protestants and Catholics), which helped wrest the power of the state out of the hands of the church (and the hands of the state from interference in the church). So, they say, what is needed an analogous reformation in Islam.

The problem is (and I think it is fairly well established): this reformation has already happened. The "Martin Luther" of Islam was Muhammed Abd-al Wahhab and the followers of his parallel "return to first principles" are the Wahhabis of today. Unfortunately, there is little hope in Wahhabism (otherwise known as Salafism) for the kind of reform the West saw through the reformation of Christianity. This is not to say that there is no hope for a modern, liberal, pluralist reform in islam -- only that it is not to be found in that direction, and likely not through a "first principles" movement; we've already seen the outcome from that one.

Please don't take my comments as derogatory or discouraging, Houssam. I believe your heart is in the right place and I'm cheering you on. It's just that, from what I've learned of the matter, you and other reform-minded muslims have a very difficult path to pursue, and you have all of our best wishes in that struggle.

Submitting....

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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